Police said they found the freezing migrants in a parking area next to the autobahn in southern Germany on Sunday, in temperatures of minus -20C.
They told officers they had travelled from Iraq, Iran and Syria.
They each paid between €500 to €800 to be taken to Germany from a refugee centre in Italy.
The smuggler apparently took the migrants just over the German border with Austria, to near Brannenburg before callously dumping them on the roadside and leaving them for dead.
Police said in a statement a mun hunt had so far been fruitless for the driver of the van.
Four of the migrant children were taken into the care of a youth welfare office. The other migrants were taken to a reception centre for refugees, police said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policies have allowed into Germany about 1.1 million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since mid-2015.
The migrant flow has slowed sharply, but Mrs Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies want an annual refugee cap – a demand she has refused.